Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for every possibility life has to offer. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.

Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.

Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game—which lands them in group counseling and community service—Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.
–Back cover of Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Upon starting this book I fell in love with Libby and Jack. Initially, I was in love with the whole story, but as the book progressed this began to change for several reasons.

The beginning of the book is worthy of praise. The author shows us a charming story of two teenagers who are both facing different battles that cause them to feel alone in the world. Libby is extremely obese, and Jack has prosopagnosia. It was nearly impossible to put the book down for the first one hundred pages. I was in love with how Niven was representing these two types of people who are often not represented.  

I also love her writing style. This is a matter of opinion, but I love how brief her chapters are. On average, they were between 2 and 6 pages, which I personally love, but I know that some people are not a fan of such short chapters, especially considering that each chapter alternated between Libby and Jack’s point of view.

As I continued reading my love for this novel began to fade. I began to see some problems that I would have preferred to ignore and love this book, but I believe that ignoring problems like this can help stereotypes form.

The biggest problem that I saw with the book was that both the obesity and the prosopagnosia seemed to be used as literary devices. To some extent they were even romanticized. This caused it to seem like the only reason the characters had this struggle was so that they could fall in love with each other’s faults and insecurities. I was deeply disappointed by this because when I began the book I truly believed that it was going to represent these issues in a wonderful way. The issues are represented, but not in the way that I hoped they would be.

My other problem with the book was that it did not have a realistic view on high school and bullying. When bullying happens, it is a horrible occurrence, but some people do not understand that it is often a quiet event. This book included a scene where Jack walked into the school and saw three or four incidents of bullying and this was normal for the school. This gave an incorrect view of what happens in these situations. If this view is formed people may not take an individual seriously when they tell them they are bullied because they will not have seen it and will not realize what it is.

Despite its faults, this was still an entertaining read. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.